8 Steps to Email Sanity: How to Work on Company Strategy When You’re Drowning in Email

drowning-in-emailBeing a second stage entrepreneur presents some “interesting” challenges. Among them, how in the heck are you supposed to be able to spend time “working on the business” instead of “in the business” when you are always drowning in email?! Chances are, you can’t get ahead on email even if you stay up half the night, because you’re still getting replies and new emails even as the night wears on. Sound familiar?

Step 1: Take a deep breath.

Step 2: Consider declaring email bankruptcy if you have a truly INSANE amount of unread email (e.g. thousands). The general idea: delete all your email, and the stuff you REALLY have to respond to will resurface. Check out these examples from Gawker Media for more info on how email bankruptcy can work.

Step 3: Stop responding so often. Try limiting email to once or twice a day. I know, I know – this sounds blasphemous. If you’re so behind on email, how could you possibly spend less time doing it?! Trust me on this one – a funny thing happens when people learn you’re not going to respond to your email all the time. They start handling things on their own and finding other options. It’s not that anyone is being lazy or anything of the sort! What I am saying is that you have all adjusted to a status quo that’s not good for you – or ultimately, your company. Check out these samples from Tim Ferris’s blog for a couple of email auto-responders you can copy and implement now to explain your healthy new habit.

[Note: If it’s too painful to stop responding right away, try this baby step. Respond, but schedule the email to be sent later if it’s not truly urgent. You’ll start to help others (and yourself ;-) adjust to a longer response time. See our previous post on how to implement email scheduling with Boomerang for more info.]

Step 4: Start unsubscribing from everything humanly possible. Yes, you could organize everything into folders instead, to read later “when you have time”… (I tried that first, so feel free if you must.) However, email is ultimately a lousy way to satiate your curiosity about anything. Subscribe via social media to things you don’t want to lose (easier to tune in or tune out as you have time and interest), and forget about the rest. The time you save will open opportunities to learn and try new things in the real world. You might discover something new that you like, such as triathlons, and open a whole new chapter of your life! (Speaking from personal experience!) Another way of looking at it:

Get on a strict low-information diet and focus on output instead of input; your wallet and weekends [and your family] will thank you for it. – Tim Ferris

Step 5: Automate your inbox. While it may be a bit un-nerving at first to have things filed for you (lest you miss something important!) the magic of it will quickly become apparent.

  • Sanebox: Free trial; from approximately $2-$20 per month. Works with Gmail, Yahoo! AOL, iCloud, Microsoft Outlook and more.
  • Otherinbox: Free. Works with Gmail, Yahoo! AOL and iCloud.

If I were starting from scratch today, I’d try Sanebox first, even though it’s not free. Their mission is specifically to solve your email challenge, where Otherinbox was recently acquired by a company more interested in improving deliverability than fixing your inbox angst. I also figure if people with inordinate amounts of email such as Robert Scoble are liking Sandbox, then it’s a pretty good sign it’ll work for darn near anyone else.

However, if full automation is too big of a leap and you’re already using Gmail, you have a handful of other streamlining options to try:

  • Smartlabels (under Settings, Labs)
  • Priority Inbox (under Settings, Inbox)
  • Stars (under Settings, General) and Multiple Inboxes (under Settings, Labs)
  • Filters (under Settings, Filters)

Step 6. Take another deep breath. If you’ve done even half of what’s outlined above, you should be starting to get your head above water. Create even more space to breathe with these last two, more strategic tips…

Step 7: Rethink meetings. When you set up the right meeting rhythms and actually get things done during meetings, email magically decreases.

Step 8: Rethink delegation. Delegating so you’re in the middle of fewer conversations also helps to alleviate inbox madness, though admittedly delegation is also a challenge in second stage when everyone is over-busy and tight capital doesn’t necessarily allow you to hire someone to fix it. However, you might be surprised if you ask around who’s willing to help you out. I’ve seen more than one business owner that could have been pushed over by a feather when employees volunteered to take stuff off their list, even when they were already busy. Your employees WANT you to be able to lead! So try asking for help. :-)

Here’s hoping these strategies help you gain control of your inbox – and your business!

What are your favorite hacks for inbox management?

Post By Catherine Juon (52 Posts)

An educator at heart, Catherine enjoys applying her expertise as an executive and long-time online marketer to help fellow entrepreneurs. To that end, she wrote the book on how to put all the pieces of online marketing together called "Internet Marketing Start-to-Finish", and speaks at both advertising industry and entrepreneurial events. Outside of the world of SEO and executive coaching, you'll find Catherine hanging out with her husband and two teenage boys, and triathlon training.

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